The Matriarchal Woman Grimaces

I guess you would call me a feminist. I mean, I’m sure there are people who easily out-feminist me, at least in their own minds. I don’t buy into the man-disparaging model of feminism, or the battle cry to all women to shuck off the trappings of wifedom and motherhood and take over the world. I prefer to believe that a woman should have the right to be whatever it is that she wants to be, whether that’s a CEO or a stay-at-home mom, a sergeant or an unshaven Santa Fe artist, a perpetual singleton or a wife and mother of a dozen kids.

My particular flavor of feminism is matriarchal in nature. I come from a female-dominated family, my father outnumbered 3:1. The only grandparent I knew, growing up, was my mom’s mom. I’ve always felt a deeper connection to my mom’s family line, not only because I knew the relatives on that side of the family better but because genetically I seem to “be from that end of the gene pool” (as opposed to my sister, who looks and seems more related to our paternal relatives). Then some of the stories (books, movies, etc.) that have contributed to my personal mythology underlined the natural matrilineal sense of family and self that I’d developed.

Thinking back to my educational years — as far back as first grade, and through college — I’ve always had more male friends than female, and gotten along better with guys. I grew up thinking I was quite boy-like, and perhaps I was; I liked playing with blocks more than dolls, preferred playing Cowboys and Indians or Army Guys to tea parties, and always wanted the next biggest electronics set (like a chemistry set, only with transistors) for Christmas.

I know now that I’m not a “masculine” woman, that there is more to one’s gender identity than what sort of toys one likes to play with. (Silly example: I totally shop like a woman, while my sister is the manliest shopper — go to specific store in pursuit of specific item and get out as quickly as possible — I know.) I’m just me, with my own quirks and things that stimulate my imagination.

And I’m married to a guy who, like me, doesn’t camp out on the far end of the gender stereotype spectrum. He likes sports and action movies and muscle cars. He also knows what an empire-waist dress is, watches cooking and fashion reality shows (even when I’m not watching), and prefers pink cocktails. The game “Battle of the Sexes” is not intended for us — we both know way too much about the opposite category. We are well matched.

The point of all this? Why is the matriarchal woman grimacing? Why is she telling Facebook that she’s having a feminist outrage moment and then getting even more irritated when a male friend jokingly says that it’s just because of my pregnancy hormones and that he’ll offer my husband safe harbor until I stop being crazy?

(Well, maybe anyone would be irritated about that.)

It’s this whole “we’re having a boy” thing. And NOT, let me be clear, that Batman Kermie Lazerbeak is going to be a boy. Nope; I’m talking about the reactions we’re getting from people.

Don’t get me wrong. Everyone is being perfectly nice. Standard niceties and genuine sentiments of happiness for us and our bundle of joy. And I am not offended by or at anyone.

But I’m getting a little bristly about the unending refrain of two related comments:

“Ryan must be so proud/happy to be having a son!”

I find myself bothered by the idea that Ryan would be especially pleased to be expecting a son, that he would prefer a son to a daughter. I know for a fact that Ryan would have been delighted regardless of what that ultrasound revealed between Kermie’s legs. Is that a peculiarity of my wonderful husband whose sense of self-worth isn’t tied up in his machismo? Maybe. Maybe the vast majority of men do prefer sons to daughters. I don’t really believe it, though, at least not looking at the men in my peer group. And it bothers my little feminist heart (and, I daresay, his little feminist heart) that so many people automatically jump to that conclusion.

“It’s so wonderful that the Baker family will carry on!”

And it’s my matriarchal heart that revolts against this one. Uhm, I’m sorry, but the Hoffman family (or the Brokaws, the Stringers, the Grahams — any of those families whose names I don’t have but whose blood I always will) didn’t die out just because I don’t have a penis. Something about saying that the Baker family will carry on makes it sound like it’s some sort of competition that Ryan won and I lost — and I categorically reject that. Kermie is going to be a Hoffman/Brokaw/Stringer/Graham/etc. every bit as much as he is going to be a Baker (Thompson/Peck/Quade/etc.). Not only that, but I reject the idea that name = family. Juliet Capulet knew that a name was just a name, and a rose by any other name smells as sweet.


And of course, I know perfectly well that no one said either of those things with the intent of making the statements that I’ve taken from them. It just seems to me that it shines a spotlight on a varnish of unconscious chauvinism in the whole baby/pregnancy culture that I hadn’t previously realized existed. I’ve been teaching literary criticism to my upperclassmen, and I’ve told them that when you engage in lit crit you’re becoming an author of an entirely new reading of the text that may not be what the original author intended at all.

And I know I’m engaging (indulging) in a feminist literary criticism interpretation that may border on a hysteria. I reserve that right.

After all, crazy pregnancy hormones and whatnot. 😉


3 thoughts on “The Matriarchal Woman Grimaces

  1. wow, those are things that I never thought about but would have me bristling, too. I really liked the description of the old civilization from Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned, who traced their lineage through maternal lines because you always knew who a baby’s mother was.

    You could always not give your son a surname, although it might prove annoying later in life when it comes to filing paper work. A friend of ours has no middle name, and uses the middle initial X whenever it is required on legal forms. Batman Kermie Lazerbeak X. Kind of gives an air of mystery, right? 🙂

    I did find the pregnancy hormone comment funny at the time I read it on Facebook, but that it because I lived with my sister during her first pregnancy and she *was* kind of crazy. I described her as being a living hyperbole of herself. Which makes me wonder, would that comment have bristled as much if it had come from a woman, you think? (Her second pregnancy, from what I understand, was completely different in that regard. I’m glad for that, because I don’t think she liked how quickly she could jump between polar opposites on her emotional sine wave.)

    • Good question. And I think… no, it wouldn’t have bothered me nearly as much if it had come from a woman, although it still would have bugged me a little. Thing is, knowing the guy who said it, I knew the comment was funny too. It was just sort of one of the straws on the camel’s back.

  2. We’ve gotten those odd comments a lot, too—”Bet Danny’s happy you’re having a boy!” Umm… no, Danny’s happy there’s a living, thriving baby in my uterus, regardless of his sex.

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